PERSPECTIVES: A BEAUTIFUL GAME-CHANGER?
Andrew Slade, Client Partner at Brandhouse
It seems not long since Real Madrid beat Juventus in the Champions League final, yet we are hurtling towards another, undoubtedly dramatic football season next month. The summer transfer window is the time when the big signings are made and clubs show their intent for the season ahead, spending increasingly eye-watering sums on players to stay ahead of their rivals. Amongst the preparation on and off the pitch, clubs are also moving their brand identities forward. Paris Saint Germain’s rumoured world-record signing of Barcelona star Neymar might suggest a step-change in player spending, but has Juventus pulled off a game-changing refresh of its identity, pre-Champions League defeat?
After ten years of life in London, I’m much more an advocate of the beautiful game than the oval-ball sport cherished in my home country, New Zealand. Arriving fresh off the boat in North London ten years ago, I became a fan of Arsenal. The name was emphatic. The crest – a cannon in a shield – seemed to suggest a fierce attack set upon a solid defence (oh, the irony). Seeing the fans on the tube was exciting, and when I actually watched them on television I liked the attacking, passing style. I had been acquired as a fan of the Gunners, largely by circumstance and geography, but also through my interactions with Arsenal’s brand, which it delivered on when I saw them on the pitch.
Although I initially chose to support a club as a survival strategy for awkward pub conversations, I no doubt would have ended up a fan of a club anyway, given football is baked into the social fabric of England. At the time, however, I represented a unique opportunity to a football club in England: someone without inherited loyalty who could be persuaded to become a fan of any team in the country. These opportunities are far greater amongst foreign audiences, as anyone watching the pre-season tours of European clubs in Asia would agree (see image below). As the game and its clubs actively push further and further abroad in search of unaffiliated fans, their brands have a huge role to play.
Football club crests are fascinating objects: half corporate logo, half coat of arms. Beaten with pride on the chests of mercenary players, tattooed all over “ultra” fan groups, and burnt by supporters protesting a club takeover by yet another wealthy foreigner. Beyond the swastika, or the symbols of religion, there can be few pieces of design in the world that summon such passion and devotion. In branding terms, most are simply a collection of distinctive assets, as opposed to considered, distinctive identities that the best designers are famous for creating.
Some clubs have vast histories that reach back to the 19th century, so the challenge of holding on to what made you unique whilst staying relevant in the modern world is already a complex task. Add this to the endless, changing spaces brands now exist in, and you have a huge challenge for anyone wanting to move their identity forward.
These challenges, coupled with zealous devotion, make any redesign of a club crest a stakeholder management labyrinth, and this is well documented for even the slightest of shifts. As such, most redesigns are either tidy-ups of the existing identity, exercises in reduction (both often in a quest to be “digital-ready”), or a plundering of the club archives – all common strategies from the current design playbook. While this is more likely to keep the home fans happy (or, at least, less angry), it can also lead to generic, underwhelming work, and it may not be enough to equip clubs to beat their rivals in exciting new potential fans on foreign shores.
But clubs, which now seem to exist in a hyper-competitive, anything-is-possible football world, can’t afford to be left behind. They must adapt, like any other brand in any other industry.
The new Juventus crest by Interbrand seemingly embraces and bucks these trends at the same time. The previous identity had all the distinctive assets (and some generic ones) wrapped up in a nice handy oval holding device. The new identity, in addition to being reductive, respectful of historical assets, and cleaner aesthetically, does two significant things that place it streets ahead of its nearest competitors.
Firstly, the new expression combines assets to create something new, distinctive, but still unmistakably Juventus. The designers have combined the ‘J’ with the famous black and white stripes, and the Scudetto Shield, in a new, cleverly considered mark, which provides huge potential for further creative work. Design nerds everywhere will love this “smile in the mind” approach, and in time, I think the fans will also realise its genius.
Secondly, it is deliberately flexible. The logotype and icon can be scaled up and down to allow a myriad of applications without compromising distinctiveness. This is a often a base requirement for modern consumer and corporate brands, but not something you see often at the heart of a sports club identity, least of all one with a 119-year history.
Time will tell if Neymar completes his transfer and other clubs keep up with the spending in the hunt to win the game’s biggest prizes. We’ll also have to sit on the bench and wait to see if and when other European heavyweights respond to Juventus’ bold design move, which launches this season. Either way, I think Juventus have stolen a march on their rivals, and if they take the same bold, decisive thinking on to the pitch, their opponents should be worried.